Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ludobites - 07/21/2010

227 E 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 624-7272

You'd think after seven visits I'd start getting tired of going to the same restaurant but LudoBites always manages to entice me back. Something about the whole pop-up structure makes it feel like each incarnation is a new experience. It doesn't hurt that Ludo uses the time between restaurants to drastically reinvent the menu. Thus here we are, back again at LudoBites 5.0 or is it LudoBites 4.5 considering the fact that the last version closed less than two months ago and was in the exact same location. Ultimately it is the completely revamped menu that makes this an entirely separate beast from the fourth incarnation.

With each new opening Ludo's popularity grows with leaps and bounds. Last time I couldn't even book a seat for the first day, this time around I couldn't even get on the system. The sheer volume of people trying to get in brought the reservation system to a screeching halt. Fortunately I was able to bum a seat from a friend's table.

2007 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec, Vouvray, Loire, France
I wasn't sure what to expect with this wine but I got a pronounced minerality complimented by a floral character on the nose. Light fruit and fresh acidity follow on the palate, with the sweetness becoming more apparent as the wine cools.

Vadouvan Naan Bread - Salted Coconut Butter
Vadouvan is one of Chef's favorite spices though he plays it safe here pairing it with his rendition of a Naan bread. The combination is delightfully savory with a slight curry essence on the finish. With the addition of the butter, the dish takes on a decidedly sweeter shade, reminding me of a waffle with syrup.

Cheese Cupcake - Chicken Liver and Ham Mousse, Kumquats, Cornichons
The chicken liver and ham were a match made in heaven, smoky and sapid, perfect when paired with the simple cheesy zest of the cupcake itself. The kumquats and cornichons were instrumental in cutting the weight of the preceding elements though I felt the citrus lingered on the palate overlong, drawing attention away from the core of the dish.

Raw Waygu Beef - Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint
I was expecting the wagyu beef to dominate this dish but the meat was more for textural contrast, adding a slick muscular chewiness. In fact it was the somen and peanut that came to the fore reminding me of cold Chinese noodles with peanut sauce. Quite enjoyable and unexpected, just what I've come to expect from Ludo.

Grilled Squid - Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth, Seaweed Tartare
Squid has been a highlight every time it is featured on the menu and this was no different. The essence of the squid is enhanced by the umami broth but it is the accents that make this special. The fresh bite of the tomato, to the slight citrus tang of the onions and the subtle finish of mint on the palate serve to elevate this dish from expertly prepared squid to an absolutely sublime experience.

Goat Cheese Soup - Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple, Frisée Salad
Ludo is justifiably lauded for his soups and tasting this it is easy to see why. The base itself is a creamy goat cheese which pairs nicely with the apple and amazingly the tofu as well. If that wasn't enough, the dish also contains core elements of a Lyonnaise salad (lardons and frisée) which also compliment the gamy broth and have a satisfying salty/sweet interplay with the apple. If anything there was so much going on with this soup that it was hard to fully appreciate any single element.

Grilled Octopus - Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D'Espellete Gelée
The octopus was perhaps the most direct course of the night and one of the few where I enjoyed the prime ingredient best on its own. The tentacle had a satisfying meatiness and remarkable tenderness. After the meal Ludo came by and explained he simply cooked the octopus for 3-4 hours rather than relying on fancy techniques to tenderize it. The natural smokiness of the octopus was complimented by a zesty Cajon seasoning that added a lovely peppery tinge.

Poached Egg - Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Prawn, Chorizo Condiment
Though this course doesn't look like much, it was one of the table favorites. The egg itself is well integrated into the potato adding a slick silky texture to balance the graininess of the mousseline. The prawns are balanced at the hairy edge between raw and cooked. While the added flavor of the chorizo gives the dish an approachable ham/egg/potato complexion yet leaves room to appreciate the sweetness of the prawns.

2004 Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione, Alta Valle Della Greve, Italy
Our second wine was a Tuscan red made up of 100% Sangiovese. I noticed aromas of white flowers and ripe dark fruits with a core of tannins that felt a bit imposing. I suspect a couple more years would do wonders for this bottle.

Cheese Plate
The cheese plate was presented as the final appetizer which is a nice change of pace from the typical presentation right before dessert.
Goat Gouda with Pear Kimchi Chutney: A mild approachable cheese on its own, the Gouda paired nicely with the Chutney which started with a slight sweetness before exploding in a burst of spice.
Gras Des Vosges (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard, Honey Comb: This was my favorite of the three, gooey and delightfully salty but not overly pungent, the cheese went nicely with the sugary honey comb.
Bleu des Causses (Cow) with Apricots-Lavender: This was what I term a beginners bleu, the characteristic sharpness of blue cheese was evident but not overwhelming while the apricots and lavender added a distinct herbal shading which I felt did not suit the cheese.
Previously Ludo vowed never to do a cheese cart saying it was too boring. After dinner Ludo came by and we asked what changed his mind and he told us it was in response to numerous repeated demands for a cheese cart. It was nice to see that Ludo's growing success hasn't gone to his head and that he can still listen to his patrons... sometimes.

Day Boat Cod - Torched Uni, Ratatouille, Red Bell Pepper Pickles, Black Curry
The cod was an excellent choice to pair with the uni, flaky and dense with enough natural flavor to stand up to the urchin's striking brine. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the fresh bell pepper pickles and the sweeter cooked version in the ratatouille, both of which contrasted with the fish nicely. The only knock against this dish would be the overwhelming pungency of the "black curry" which I suspect was a derivative of black bean paste. Taken in small quantities this added a earthy bitter cast to the dish, but in large quantities I could taste little else but the curry.

Steamed Duck - Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic
This was my first experience with steamed duck and I certainly hope not my last. The flavor was surprisingly reminiscent of a roast duck but the texture is noticeably more succulent due to the greater moisture during the cooking process. The crispy skin puree felt like a cross between typical duck skin and a breaded coating giving the bird a nice crunch to boot.

Confit Pork Belly - Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guiness Emulsion
Pork belly is always a strong note to end on. It goes without saying the belly itself was delicious, but it was the Thai-style slaw that made this dish. The sweet tang was the perfect foil to the belly, cutting right through the fat and keeping the dish from being to heavy.

Caramel Soufflé - Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur de Sel Ice Cream
I was hoping for a salted caramel or butterscotch flavor from the caramel and fleur de sel combination but the bitter grapefruit the other two components from meshing completely and the resultant mix was more like an eggy pound cake with fruit.

Campfire Smoked S'Mores - Guacamole Sorbet
I didn't know what to expect when I saw this on the menu. Seems sacrilegious tainting a treasured childhood dessert with vegetables. The S'More had a distinctly alcoholic tinge resulting in a bitter finish behind the sugary sweet marshmallow. I typically love unique ice creams and anything avocado but the guacamole sorbet resulted in a vegetal flavor and incredibly dense body the just felt disconcerting, especially when paired with the S'More.

Apparently these last two months were time well spent, culminating in the strongest Ludo dinner ever. As mentioned earlier the menu has been completely revamped, though I'd expect no less from Ludo. Furthermore the food seems even more refined this time around, resulting in elaborately crafted dishes that combine disparate elements from multiple cultures into a delicious cohesive whole. I missed out on the foie gras with Chinese BBQ sauce, satisfying my curiosity for this course alone is worth a return trip, assuming I can actually get reservations.


Cookie Chomper said...

so what's your favorite this time? there must be a fav

Epicuryan said...

Of course. The Poached Egg with potato and spot prawns was my fav. Another guy agreed with me, but Kevin and the last guy liked the grilled squid best

Cookie Chomper said...

you and your love for poached eggs..